3 Ways to Work Remotely

In the COVID-19 crisis, how can a university or college keep operating? At Trinity Western University, classes have moved online, and yes, Alex Usher, they really have moved online. They’re not perfect, but they’re working. And how can a Registrar’s Office keep working? Here are my ideas, and make sure you read to the end for a fun challenge for you.

The Registrar’s Office, Admissions, and IT are all working remotely to continue serving students. Admissions is doing the coolest thing ever. We had to cancel our campus visit program, called Preview Weekend, but instead we shipped out hundreds of Virtual Reality headsets to all who were registered for the event and more. We prepared 3-D videos and starting today, March 20, we will be running a combination of pre-recorded and live video events that showcase a virtual reality tour of TWU. The response from participants has already been almost overwhelming. Hopefully we don’t break the internet with this!

The Registrar’s Office is not quite as cool as that. We have posted signs, edited our web pages, and are using social media and other communication tools to inform students that we’re moving to a virtual service model, which means we will not be serving them face to face. How are we doing that?

  1. Help Desk. We use Team Dynamix for our help desk system. It is a beautiful thing. Students log in and it synchronizes with their student ID and then we have all the verified student data we need. They choose the service they need, type out their question or concern or need and hit submit. We have one person assigned to looking at each help desk ticket and assigning it to another staff member. The whole thing is transparent to everyone on staff, which means if something goes off the rails, there are lots of people who can help. And we follow up each ticket with a short 3 question survey: Did you get the help you needed? How was the service? And How could we have served you better? The survey results have automated reports and we can see how we’re doing over a week, a month, a year, or longer. I highly recommend this tool – it has changed our lives and our staff like it because they appreciate seeing the feedback too! Did I mention that it’s 100% transparent? Everyone knows how we’re doing and we all prefer it that way.
  2. Phones. We have a central call-in line (lovingly known as the 2070 line). We want people to reach a real human being as much as possible, but with no one in the office we couldn’t answer it. We got an old cell phone with a new SIM card and a cheap contract ($15 per month) and the person who normally gets the phone is carrying that cell with them. We’ve forwarded the 2070 line to that cell phone. This means a real person will continue to answer the phone.
  3. MS Teams. We use Office 365, which has MS Teams as a fully integrated part of it. Our IT team piloted its use and then set us up with it. It took a little getting used to and we’re no experts yet, but we like it. We are not using this for service to the community, but only for our office to work together even though we are all working remotely. We set up a Team for the whole office, and then created a few channels for sub-teams (you know, the records people, service people, managers, etc.). There’s a chat feature, a calendar, files, etc., but the best part for me is the video calling feature (like Skype or Facetime). Yesterday, I ran my first all-staff meeting by video. After the typical technical difficulties (“Is this mic on?”) we were off and running. My biggest takeaway? Video meetings take twice as long as in-person meetings if you try to run them the same way. No one wants that so I’ll have to figure that out.

A fun grass-roots movement started among my staff who are working remotely. They’re using the Teams chat feature to post pictures of their remote office set up, and there’s a little rivalry about who has the best space, all in good humour, which is really nice to see.

I would like to extend the remote office space challenge to you and your team. Follow me on Twitter or Instagram ( my handle is @gvmcmillan on both) and I will post a photo of my remote office space. You can either reply with your own photo, or create your own post and tag me in it. To extend the fun, tag three other people you know and challenge them to post a photo of their space and so on. Let’s make this a good social thing even though we are maintaining social distancing in the midst of a crisis.

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